Wednesday, July 16, 2014


It must have been around 3 o'clock in the morning of the 2012 24-hours race in Bangor. I could see the rain coming in horizontally, the first lane of the track was completely flooded, I was more exhausted than I had ever been before, people kept running past me and I was barely a quarter into the race. It was probably the lowest I had ever felt. After months of preparation I had to face the fact that I sucked at ultra running and my greatest wish was that Niamh would all of a sudden turn up at the side of the track and get me home into a warm, dry, soft bed.

Of course, things didn't turn out that way. It wasn't Niamh who turned up at 3 am but Finn O'Mara and she kept encouraging me and joined the fun herself for the second 12 hours. My exhaustion eventually switched itself off after a few more rough hours and a few hours later I was running in second position, a place I would never relinquish even though an Irish international runner kept battling me for hours, and all of a sudden I had moved straight from no-hoper status right into the middle of the elite field. Unreal.

I was rather taken aback after the race when chatting to Eoin Keith, the Irish record holder, when he told me it would be interesting to see where I could go on now after that performance. I had just run the race of my life and all he wanted me to do was to go on and better it?

He was absolutely right, of course. That race had become history the second the horn had sounded and there is no point in resting on one's laurels. Can I push on? Can I better my performance? If so, by how much? Might I even achieve the IAAF standard?

During the first lap of the Donadea 50k, all the way back in February, Don Hannon (later this year the winner of the Wicklow Way Race) grabbed my arm and asked me if I was going to win the 24 hrs championship this year. Initially I just looked at him blankly until he explained that the European/World championships would take place only a few weeks before Belfast, possibly taking the entire Irish elite squad out of contention. This was news to me but I refused to get excited, which saved me from feeling disappointed when those championships were cancelled, allowing the full contingent of our elite runners to take part in Belfast and more importantly, to be at their best. I immediately came to the conclusion that I preferred things this way. A stacked field might inspire everyone on the track to up their game, including myself. I'd much rather come, say, fifth and reach my mileage goals than come second with a result that would leave me slightly embarrassed.

Besides, even had the top elites been taken out of the equation, there is always at least one runner who comes seemingly out of nowhere and races him or herself into contention. I should know. Two years ago that runner was me.

Two more sleeps / sleepless nights. I'm torn between fear and anticipation.

14 Jul
5+ miles, 44:20, 8:47 pace, HR 125
15 Jul
5 miles, 43:20, 8:40 pace, HR 128
16 Jul
5 miles, 43:45, 8:45 pace, HR 125


  1. You crazy fool, fear? fear of what? You need to get that silly notion the boot. You are going to the run the race of your life, all you need to do it get enjoy the ride for the next three days.

    Sure there will be lots of logistics to make sure everything is in place, and a few hours to run when the race comes - but that is exactly what you signed up for and have trained so diligently for. This is all something you've done before, but this time you're better prepared mentally and physically, and you have plenty more experience to draw upon.

    You told me I'd get on well and I did - and did it with far less training and experienced to draw upon. If I can do so can you. Believe in yourself and enjoy every minute.

    As for night demons you simply won't have any if you go out and enjoy every lap. Demons inhabit the realm of the unknown, but you know exactly what it's like now so there is nothing to fear and hold you back.

    So if you are torn between fear and anticipation, let look at the fear directly in the eye, illuminate the dark shadows and then move on. Turn your full attention attention to positive and useful anticipation of success, any time you find yourself looking over your shoulder laugh at yourself and get back to positive excitement about being part of wonderful race.

    1. My best races have often followed a prolonged period of dread, so that's not a bad sign. Running 24 hours will always be hard, no matter how well prepared I am. If I expected it to be easy I would not be prepared for the tough hours that are to come.

      Mostly, however, it's the waiting that's torture. Once I start running on Friday I'll be fine.

    2. Nervous excitement and dread two sides of the same coin. Both will prepare you for fight or flight, but one is far more pleasant to experience. You can train yourself to respond positively to the nerves so turn dread into positive nervous excitement. So when that churning, edgy feeling arises respond to it positively rather thinking about how it's helping your body prepare itself to handle any discomfort and tiredness.

      Simply don't allow those nerves give way to dred, there is really is nothing to dred. Discomfort, exhaustion are nothing to dred, but something to make peace with and to embrace as something that is sign that you are doing something amazing.

      How you respond to fatigue/tiredness/discomfort is something you've been working on with each training run and each race. It's also something you can still work on now before the race. With one day to go you naturally can't but have nerves, struggle to sleep, struggle to think about anything but the race. You can still continue the training - the discipline to respond positively to the nerves, the ups and downs of everything that happens between now and the finish will help you as you race progresses as you'll have a template of how you respond to adversity.

      Goofy things like smiling when you think about the race, when you are with others can help. Messing around, finding things to laugh at.


      One a different note, will there be an online reporting of how the race is progressing?

  2. Best of luck Thomas. I hope you have brilliant memories when it is all over.

  3. Looking forward to the early report Thomas: "5th place, 220.022k, no blisters."

    1. Good guess eh Thomas? Well done!

  4. Good luck. The hard work is done, so you can draw on it now! Enjoy, if that is the word!
    Mike,Anne and all at Star of the Laune AC

  5. "Great expectations" Thomas "Great Expectations"!

  6. Way to go at Belfast, Thomas. Good company there, you had.